Digital is in everything and for everyone: A local approach to digital inclusion

I’m sure when you think of Salford, you think of Media City, culture, architecture, and… Manchester (the neighbouring city). In many people’s minds, Salford is probably one of the last places you’d expect high rates of digital exclusion, but actually, 24% of adults in Salford lack basic digital skills.

We’re delighted to be working with Salford City Council on a bold, ambitious, and groundbreaking digital inclusion project, Digital You, to bring all the benefits of the digital world to almost 8,000 Salford residents, with a goal of helping them to transform their lives.

We will be working with more than 25 local Salford community organisations – libraries, Gateways, community centres, community organisations such as work clubs and women’s centres, and housing associations. Any organisation who shares this vision of a better world for socially excluded people through digital – and who wants to join this movement – can. Our goal is to build on what’s already great in Salford – this is about growing capacity so that it’s not just a project but it’s a sustainable movement by working together.

It’s all part of a bigger project called #DigitalSalford and I was delighted to attend the launch event last week where I met lots of interesting and inspiring people, including Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, and Paul Dennett, Salford City Mayor.

 

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Me with Paul Dennett and Andy Burnham

 

There were lots of people at the launch event who were intrigued by Digital You and wanted to find out how they could be involved in the project. There was a sense that this was collective and collaborative action towards a shared goal – and there was a high level of enthusiasm.

Local Authorities tell us that it’s important for them to have digital on their agenda, especially when there are 11.5 million people in the UK without the basic internet skills they need. The world for many people is difficult. Many people don’t have enough money and find juggling with the little they have hard. Many feel isolated from family and community. We are committed to helping people improve their lives. It’s not about technology it’s about people – and people’s place in our digital society and our digital economy.

Digital inclusion is about two things, one, about helping vulnerable people to have better lives and, two, it’s about making sure no-one is left behind as digital improves the access, effectiveness, and convenience, of commercial and public services.

The UK government is taking action with things like the Digital Skills Partnership board, but with other priorities like Brexit at the forefront of their mind, and with powers being devolved to some local authorities, in the not-to-distant future it will be up to councils to lead the way for people, organisations and businesses in their area to fully participate in our ever-growing digital nation.

In Salford, over the next two years, we will be helping some of the city’s most vulnerable people to grow the basic digital skills and confidence they need to thrive in today’s digital society. Salford has a bold ambition to be a digital city using digital transformation to ensure the Council’s services are a great experience for everyone. Digital You is making sure that when digital is in everything it’s also for everyone.

I applaud Salford City Council for being bold – for their leadership, their vision, and their investment in this urgent agenda – and I strongly encourage other local authorities to follow this closely.

We’re always happy to chat about what we’re doing and how we may be able to work together.

Why, as Digital Leader of the Year 2017, I think there’s no such thing as a digital leader

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Last year, I was voted Digital Leader of the Year at the DL100 Awards, which was a surprising and amazing honour. With nominations now open for this year’s awards, and being in a typically reflective mood for the New Year, it has made me think. I was, of course, delighted to win the accolade last year, but if we, as a society, are to truly embrace digital then there shouldn’t be any individual digital leaders.

Bear with me.

Digital is everywhere in today’s society. It is implicit in so many roles, from communications through to service delivery and project management. To be successful, you need to be digitally competent and confident – which is why we exist as an organisation.

The same goes for organisations too. Those not embracing digital are being left behind by their competitors, as evidenced by the latest Lloyds Business Digital Index. The report says the most digital business leaders are three times as likely to report increasing turnovers. Which implies that the most digital leaders are just better leaders.

In our increasingly digital society, to be considered a leader, it’s an absolute must to be able to do things digitally and to be able to support others to do things digitally. If you can’t do either, then you just can’t be called a leader.

A good leader thinks about the future of their organisation, they are clear about their vision for their organisation and makes decisions based on an understanding of the wider world they work in. They know their staff make the difference, and build an environment they can thrive in, and they understand customers, stakeholders, and partners, they communicate well with them. None of this stuff can be done well without digital.

There are lots of great leaders that champion digital transformation, and I’m honoured to have been recognised as one of them. But in 2018, should we still be talking about digital transformation? Digital has already transformed most of our lives, in ways both big and small. So when we’re talking about digital transformation, we should be transforming lives for those who still aren’t being included in our digital world.

Digital transformation, after all, is just making our businesses better, improving the way we communicate with customers and citizens, seizing all the opportunities that are available to us. It seems a bit of a no-brainer to me.

I am honoured to be named a Digital Leader, and will fully support this year’s DL100 Digital Leaders Awards as they are a chance to shine a spotlight on the benefits of embracing digital as a leader. And, I’m looking forward to seeing, and being inspired by, this year’s winners and nominees.

But that being said, I’m hopeful that soon we’ll reach the stage where every leader is a digital leader, and we’ll just be celebrated good leaders, rather than good digital ones.